Mass Effect 3 Review

If you’re look­ing for the short, spoil­er-free shop­ping rec­om­men­da­tion, then Mass Effect 3 (and in fact, the whole Mass Effect series) is an expe­ri­ence that no seri­ous gamer should be with­out.  In fact, if you’re seri­ous about spoil­ers, refrain from read­ing past the pic­ture below as this arti­cle is main­ly a review (in oth­er words, a dis­cus­sion) of the Mass Effect con­tent, and not sim­ply a means by which you decide to buy-it-or-not.

I will, how­ev­er, say that I’m not a games jour­nal­ist, that I don’t receive pre­view copies of games and that I have no rela­tion­ship with EA or Ori­gin oth­er than a cus­tomer.  Many high pro­file pro­fes­sion­al game review mag­a­zines can­not claim the last part of that state­ment — this indus­try needs to be cleaned up.

Mass Effect (the series) is grand.  It is Space Opera writ large.  Deci­sions have real and sur­pris­ing con­se­quences and all three install­ments will have you expe­ri­enc­ing the full range of emo­tions toward the out­comes.  While oth­er game series have achieved many oth­er unique things, the cohe­sive three-part sto­ry with pow­er and emo­tion at epic lev­els through­out is pos­si­bly only equaled by that of the (as yet unfin­ished) Half-Life series.

If you haven’t yet played though, stop here, go play them all, in order, and come back.  I’ll wait.

Mass Effect 3 London Destruction

Mass Effect 3 Lon­don Destruction

While read­ing oth­er peo­ples’ thoughts on Mass Effect, I stum­bled across a dis­course on plot holes in Mass Effect 2.  The author com­plained that he had lost sus­pen­sion of dis­be­lief due to the improb­a­bil­i­ty of events.  I can’t say that I did.  I agree with him regard­ing the plot holes — but for me, I rec­og­nized them much ear­li­er.  In my expe­ri­ence of Mass Effect, aliens just did­n’t believe humans, no mat­ter how much evi­dence was presented.

Belief isn’t a prob­lem in Mass Effect 3.  The “Reapers” arrive.  They arrive on earth (see above) and they arrive on the home worlds and colonies of each alien race.  It’s Shep­ard’s job to unite the forces of the entire galaxy and to get the “super weapon” built.  You do accu­mu­lat­ed (and also loose) team mem­bers, but unlike the pre­vi­ous two install­ments, lit­tle focus is giv­en to this mechan­ic.  In fact, the total num­ber of squad­mates at the end does­n’t real­ly matter.

The core “suc­cess” mechan­ic is to gath­er “war resources” which each have a numer­i­cal val­ue.  This total is then mul­ti­plied by a fac­tor that rep­re­sents your recent efforts to play mul­ti­play­er or tablet-based Mass Effect games.  I ini­tial­ly thought that I would loathe this and was only par­tial­ly com­fort­ed by the fact that one could pos­si­bly achieve the “best” end­ing though sin­gle play­er play alone.  I also was leery of the fact that micro­pay­ments seemed a strong com­po­nent of the mul­ti­play­er.  Both of these turned out to be need­less.  Only a few hours of mul­ti­play­er play is required to boost your “galac­tic readi­ness” and the game­play is suf­fi­cient­ly fun and engag­ing with­out the micro­pay­ments.  I still believe that the inclu­sion of micro­pay­ments here looks greedy on EA’s part — but then I con­sid­ered that they were pret­ty much greedy by definition.

In fact, for most of the game I was enjoy­ing the Mass Effect expe­ri­ence just as I had in the pre­vi­ous install­ments.  Shoot some bad guys, talk down some oth­ers, then talk to lots of peo­ple.  Immerse your­self in the sto­ry.  Rinse and repeat.  I was sin­cere­ly proud when I final­ly fixed the Kro­gan sit­u­a­tion by elim­i­nat­ing the genophage and con­vinc­ing the Kro­gan to work with the Turi­ans.  I was dou­bly proud when I solved the issue between the Geth and the Quar­i­ans.  I felt good.

Then came the end.  I was ready.  I had the 5000 points of galac­tic readi­ness required to win.  I had upgrad­ed weapons and amaz­ing pow­ers.  I was ready to face the reapers.

Like the major­i­ty of the game, the end is a mix of talk­ing and fight­ing.  Most of the fight­ing is pret­ty epic.  In this case, the most epic of hold­ing a loca­tion fol­lowed by a sprint on foot which is much like the last sprint in the tank of the first game.  Then you arrive at the weird part.

After all that you’ve done, you learn that yet some­one else is pulling the reaper’s strings.  That the pur­pose of “har­vest­ing” all advanced life in the galaxy each cycle is to pre­vent them from cre­at­ing syn­thet­ic life that will even­tu­al­ly kill them.  Dis­re­gard­ing the fact that this is pret­ty plain­ly “killing them to save them” type log­ic, your entrance on the scene has giv­en you new choic­es.  If you have enough stuff, your choic­es are:

  1. Destroy all syn­thet­ic life (Rene­gade?).  This includes EDI (your ship’s com­put­er and your pilot’s love inter­est that you’ve helped grow and learn) and the Geth (which I had just saved as well).  It also appar­ent­ly includes Shep­ard (there’s this bit in Mass Effect 2 where they “rebuilt him”).
  2. Con­trol the Reapers (Paragon?).  This also seems to kill EDI (she does­n’t emerge from the ship) and does­n’t real­ly men­tion the Geth.  It also seems to kill Shepard.
  3. Merge Syn­thet­ic life with Organ­ic life (neu­tral?).  This seems like the best choice, “but” … it also still destroys both Shep­ard and the Mass Relays.

I have no prob­lem with Shep­ard dying.  It’s the end of the series and its clear in mul­ti­ple lines of dia­logue from the begin­ning to the end that he’s very pre­pared to make the ulti­mate sac­ri­fice.  In fact, let’s make that a stronger state­ment: “I would be very sat­is­fied with an end­ing where Shep­ard gave his life for that of the galaxy.”

The most obvi­ous prob­lem I have with all three end­ings is the destruc­tion of the Mass Relays.  Here you have the com­bined (although reduced) space fleets of a dozen species all fight­ing to get the super weapon to earth.  Not only does this seem­ing­ly destroy the Citadel (with it’s mil­lions of inhab­i­tants), but it also strands all these ships around earth by destroy­ing the mass relays.  I assume it strands oth­er aliens in their local sys­tems, too — but, in gen­er­al, they don’t have the com­bined galaxy’s fleets to feed with one par­tial­ly destroyed plan­et’s worth of food pro­duc­tion.  I get that the Mass Relays are the “expla­na­tion” for the “sig­nal” to be broad­cast to all cor­ners of the galaxy (thus elim­i­nat­ing all Reapers, not just those around Earth), but any­one con­sid­er­ing the destruc­tion of all the Mass Relays would imme­di­ate­ly real­ize that results in a rather sad and poor ending.

But the biggest slap in the face from the end­ing comes not in the details, but the fram­ing of the choic­es.  I made every­one work togeth­er.  The syn­thet­ic life of this “cycle” was pre­pared to work with the organ­ics and vice ver­sa.  The fram­ing of the “cat­a­lysts” choice was that it was inevitable that syn­thet­ic life would destroy it’s cre­ator and then be a neg­a­tive influ­ence on the uni­verse.  Cer­tain­ly this fol­lows from a “Ter­mi­na­tor” mind­set, which, in turn, is the way the pre­vail­ing wind is blow­ing giv­en that tech­nol­o­gy is bare­ly under­stood by a major­i­ty of Earth­’s population.

But if my choic­es affect the way the game plays out, it strikes me as a cheap cop-out that they did­n’t include an end­ing for those who man­aged to make a place for syn­thet­ic life to flour­ish.  This igno­rance of choice feels just as bad here as it did in Deus Ex: Human Rev­o­lu­tion’s boss fights.

It’s no small won­der that a many gamers are clam­or­ing for a rewrite of the end­ing — pos­si­bly with some DLC.  A bonus cut scene at the end of the cred­its seems to allude that Shep­ard sur­vives (with­out explain­ing how) and that a sequel might be planned … but the end­ing needs to be “fixed” first.

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